A rally from oil and mining stocks helps the FTSE 100 bounce 80.67 points higher to 6737.04 in early trade, though Royal Mail (RMG) reverses 2.4% to 408.1p as its complaints over unfair competition in its letter delivery markets are rebuffed by UK regulator Ofcom. The part-state owned group says it is unfair to expect it to distribute mail across the country at a single price, while competitors serve profitable city markets but offload less profitable deliveries onto the Royal Mail network.
News and magazines distributor Connect (CNCT) slides 8% to 168p as the rights issue premium drops out of its share price. The two-for-seven £55 million equity raise at 102p was launched to fund its £113.4 million acquisition of Sheffield-headquartered parcel firm Tuffnells. At current prices, subscribing shareholders are sitting on a gain of 68p per share on the rights they took up, while the share price sits around the same price as before the deal was announced.
Oil stocks recover amid a slight rebound in oil prices and evidence US shale producers are beginning to dial back spending. Among the risers are Genel Energy (GENL) and Gulf Keystone Petroleum (GKP), which also benefit from news the Kurdistan Regional Government has made its first payments to the two firms for historic crude exports. Genel gains 6.6% to 680.5p and Gulf Keystone 4.2% to 67.75p as they confirm respective payments of $24 million and $15 million.
Life insurer Aviva (AV.) edges 0.5% higher to 501.7p after agreeing terms to buy Friends Life (FLG) for £5.6 billion in shares. The target improves 2.9% to 376.8p on news of the biggest deal in the UK insurance sector since the merger of CGU and Norwich Union almost fifteen years ago.
Estate agency franchiser M Winkworth (WINK:AIM) falls 4.5% to 125p after warning of tougher conditions next year, especially in the first half due to uncertainty caused by the general election set for May.
Regeneration specialist St Modwen Properties (SMP), a running Shares Play of the Week, gains 2.4% to 382.6p as it says full-year pre-tax profits are likely to come in at the top end of expectations, driven by improving valuations.
Theme park operator Merlin Entertainments (MERL) gains 2.9% at 381.8p on a positive pre-close trading update flagging continued growth across the business, although its two attractions in Bangkok show little sign of improvement. The Legoland owner expects to deliver earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of £407 million to £411 million for 2014.
Expansionist convenience stores and newsagent operator McColl's Retail (MCLS) is marked down 3.6% to 170p on a mixed fourth quarter trading update. Total sales grew 5% in the final quarter driven by a step up store acquisitions, though like-for-like sales were down 1% amid weaker market conditions and CEO James Lancaster cautions 'the consumer outlook remains challenging.' Read our story here.
Ivory Coast-focused palm oil minnow DekelOil (DKL:AIM) edges 0.43% higher on a positive operations update. Crude palm oil (CPO) production at its mill is in line with expectations and DekelOil is 'highly confident' of a ramp up in production in the year ahead. Shares outlined the small cap's investment merits here in August.
United Cacao (CHOC:AIM), the ambitious developer of a cacao plantation in Peru, cultivates a 5.1% gain to 134.5p in debut Aim dealings. Seeking to become the world's biggest corporate grower of cacao by the end of 2016, the company raised £6.4 million at an issue price of 128p for a £23 million starting price tag.